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Healthcare & Pharmaceuticals

Indonesia travel agencies offer queue-beating U.S. ‘vaccination tours’

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Tour consultants of Anugerah Tour Semesta, an Indonesian travel agency offering holiday packages to the U.S. that include a dose of Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, work at their cubicles in Jakarta, Indonesia, June 14, 2021. Picture taken June 14, 2021. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

JAKARTA, June 21 (Reuters) - After not securing a COVID-19 vaccination at home, Indonesian Muhammad Risqy Putra booked a trip to the United States to get inoculated there on his first overseas trip since the pandemic.

With rich nations like the United States rolling out vaccinations far more quickly, wealthier residents in developing countries - from Indonesia to Thailand to Mexico - are prepared to head abroad to get a shot more quickly.

"It just so happens that I haven't gotten the vaccine here, so I might as well go for a trip and get a vaccine there," Muhammad Risqy, 25, told Reuters.

This will be his first to America. He will be accompanied by his parents, who also intend to get vaccinated.

Only 5%, or 8.8 million people, in Indonesia have been fully vaccinated, government data shows, as authorities struggle to meet a target to inoculate 181.5 million by year-end.

Rising COVID-19 cases in the world's fourth-most populous country also mean vaccinations have been prioritised for "red zones".

ATS Vacations, a travel agency offering "vaccination tours", estimated it had lost 75% of its business due to the pandemic and says the trips are beneficial to both industry and consumers.

"We are helping those who want to get vaccinated, but are having difficulties (getting a shot). Since they want to travel at the same time, why not combine both," said Lilik Budiman, ATS Vacations' sales director.

The agency's advertising flags "the chance for a free vaccine" next to a photograph of vials of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) vaccine.

More than 100 people so far have booked the tours, which are due to run from June to November and are contingent on people getting visas to travel.

The cost of a minimum eight-day trip can range from $1,100 to $3,700 depending on whether it is a group or private tour. Each group tour can accommodate up to 30 people.

For Dewiana, 33, who plans to travel with her husband at the end of September, the chance to get her preferred vaccine brand is one of the reasons why she wants to get a shot abroad.

"From the brochure I learned that the vaccine we will get is Johnson & Johnson," she said.

Indonesia has been vaccinating people mainly with China's Sinovac (SVA.O) shots and the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccine.

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, described the idea of going overseas for vaccines as "common and not prohibited" for those wealthy enough.

“Seeking medical treatment in the United States is a permissible purpose of travel for individuals holding a valid visitor visa,” said Michael Quinlan, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia.

Reporting by Heru Asprihanto; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Tom Hogue

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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